Important Study Notes IAS Prelims 2019

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1. HORN BILL FESTIVAL  

• The Union Home Minister inaugurated the hugely popular Hornbill Festival 2018 in Kohima, coinciding with the Formation Day of Nagaland.

• Hornbill Festival offers unique opportunity for states to interact and exhibit their cultural heritage in the true spirit of “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat”.

• It is also called the “Festival of Festivals”.

• The festival pays tribute to Hornbill; the most admired and revered bird for the Nagas for its qualities of alertness and grandeur.

• It is organized by State Tourism and Art & Culture Departments and also supported by Union Government.

• Hornbill Festival was established on 1st December 1963 and was inaugurated by the then President Dr. S Radhakrishnan.

2. Mayurbhanj Chhau

• Mayurbhanj Chhau dance form has a long history. Originally a tribal dance, which originated from the forests of Mayurbhanj, Odisha in the 18th century, it got the status of a martial art form in the 19th century.

• Slowly & steadily Mayurbhanj Chhau left its martial character and mellowed. Under the

Royal Patronage it received proper attention & direction and showed a bright future and utmost perfection as a dance of excellent style in the field of eastern art and culture of India.

3. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan is planning to construct a heritage park in Elum Valley, which carries a historical significance to both the Hindus and the Buddhists, to promote religious tourism.

• Under the project, the Elum Valley would be made a safe abode for the followers of Hinduism and Buddhism and as well as for tourists visiting the heritage park.

• Under the project, fencing of the entire Elum Valley would be done and a separate track would be constructed in the heritage park.

About Elum Valley

• Elum Valley is located between the Swat and Buner districts in the province; Elum Valley has been a site of divinity and pilgrimage for both the Hindu and the Buddhist communities.

• According to Hindu belief, Lord Ram spent time meditating there during his 14 years of exile, while Buddhists believe it to be the site where a previous incarnation of Lord Buddha gave up his life.

4. Prayagraj Kumbh Mela 2019, a religious fair that will be held from January 15, 2019 to March 4, 2019.

• The Kumbh Mela (the festival of the sacred pitcher) is anchored in Hindu mythology. It is the largest public gathering and collective act of faith, anywhere in the world. The Mela draws tens of millions of pilgrims over the course of approximately 55 auspicious days to bathe at the sacred confluence of the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the mystical Sarasvati. Primarily, this congregation includes Ascetics, Saints, Sadhus, Sadhvis, Kalpvasis, and Pilgrims from all walks of life.

Celebration:     

• Kumbh Mela is a religious  pilgrimage  that  is celebrated  four  times  over  a  course  of  12  years.  The geographical location of Kumbh Mela spans over four locations in India and the Mela site keeps rotating between one of the four pilgrimage places on four sacred rivers as listed below:

1. Haridwar on the Ganges in Uttarakhand.

2. Ujjain on the Shipra in Madhya Pradesh.

3. Nashik on the Godavari in Maharashtra.

4. Prayagraj at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati in Uttar Pradesh.

Selection of site

• Each site’s celebration is based on a distinct set of astrological positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the Jupiter. The celebrations occur at the exact moment when these positions are fully occupied, as it is considered to be the holiest time in Hinduism.

5. Adopt a Heritage Project

 The government recently handed over a Memorandum of Understanding to Resbird Technologies under the ‘Adopt a Heritage’ project for the development of a mobile audio guide application for five iconic sites.

The five iconic sites are as follows:

• Rajasthan – Amer Fort.

• Assam – Kaziranga.

• Goa – Colva Beach.

• Kerala – Kumarakom.

• Bihar – Mahabodhi Temple.

Significance

• The shortlisted agencies would become ‘Monument Mitras’ through the innovative concept of ‘Vision bidding’, which will give them the opportunity to associate their CSR activities with a heritage site if the Vision Bid is selected.

About a Heritage Project:

• The ‘Adopt A Heritage: Apni Dharohar, Apni Pehchan’ of Ministry of Tourism was launched on World Tourism Day i.e. 27th September, 2017. This project is a key initiative of Ministry of Tourism in close collaboration with Ministry of Culture and Archeological Survey of India (ASI), to develop the heritage sites / monuments and making them tourist-friendly to enhance the tourism potential and their cultural importance in a planned and phased manner.

• The project plans to entrust heritage sites/monuments and other tourist sites to private sector companies, public sector companies and individuals for the development of tourist amenities. The project aims to develop synergy among all partners.

Monument Mitras: Successful bidders selected for adopting heritage sites / monuments by the Oversight and Vision Committee shall be called as Monument Mitras. The basic and advanced amenities of the tourist destinations would be provided by them. They would also look after the operations and the maintenance of the amenities. The ‘Monument Mitras’ would associate pride with their CSR activities.

Aim of the Project

• The aim of the project is to provide basic amenities that include cleanliness, public conveniences, safe drinking water and ease of access for tourists, signages, illumination, Wi-fi etc.

Funding of the Project:

• The project envisages involvement of Private/Public Companies/Organizations and Individuals to adopt Monuments, Natural Heritage Sites and other Tourist Sites, primarily under CSR. No fund is given by Ministry of Tourism.

6. Buddhist site museum has been inaugurated at Lalitgiri in Odisha. Excavations at Lalitgiri have yielded ancient seals and inscriptions.

Located in Cuttack district, it will be the third site museum of the Bhubaneswar circle of the Archaeological Survey of India after Ratnagiri and Konark.

About Lalitgiri:

• It is a major Buddhist complex in the Indian state of Odisha comprising major stupas, ‘esoteric’ Buddha images, and monasteries (viharas), one of the oldest sites in the region.

• Together with the Ratnagiri and Udayagiri sites, Lalitagiri is part of Pushpagiri University located on top of hills of the same names. The three complexes are known as the “Diamond Triangle”. Tantric Buddhism was practiced at this site.

• Excavations at Lalitgiri have yielded the remains of four monasteries, showing cultural continuity from the post-Mauryan period till the 13th century CE. The centre of attraction is a relic casket containing corporal remains found inside the Mahastupta.

Location: It is hemmed between the Parabhadi and Landa sandstone hills in the standalone Asian hill range. It is situated in the Mahanga Tahsil in Cuttack district.

7. Noted sitar player Manju Mehta has been conferred with the ‘Tansen Samman’ for 2018 by the Madhya Pradesh government for her contribution in the field of music.

Key facts:

• The prestigious ‘National Tansen Samman’ is a musical award conferred to the exponents of Hindustani music. This award carries a cash prize of Rs. 2 Lakh along with a memento.

• The Tansen Music Festival is organised every year by Madhya Pradesh culture department in the memory of Tansen, one of the greatest artists in Indian history. It is held annually in Gwalior.

About Tansen:

• He was a prominent figure of Hindustani classical music.

• He began his career and spent most of his adult life in the court and patronage of the Hindu king of Rewa, Raja Ramchandra Singh (1555–1592), where Tansen’s musical abilities and studies gained widespread fame.

• This reputation brought him to the attention of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, who sent messengers to Raja Ramchandra Singh, requesting Tansen to join the musicians at the Mughal court.

• Akbar considered him as a Navaratnas (nine jewels), and gave him the title Mian, an honorific, meaning learned man.

• Tansen is remembered for his epic Dhrupad compositions, creating several new ragas, as well as for writing two classic books on music Sri Ganesh Stotra and Sangita Sara.

8. The government recently released a Commemorative Postage Stamp on Rajkumar Shukla.

• Department of Posts has been paying a tribute to eminent personalities who have made a significant contribution to public life especially freedom fighters. With this stamp, the Department has released 43 issues in the current calendar year.

Who was Rajkumar Shukla?

• In drawing the attention of Mahatma Gandhi to the plight of peasants suffering under an oppressive system established by European indigo planters in Champaran, Bihar, Rajkumar Shukla made a seminal contribution culminating in the launch of the Champaran Satyagraha in 1917 by Mahatma Gandhi.

About the Champaran Satyagraha:

• It was undertaken in the erstwhile undivided Champaran district in northern Bihar. Mahatma Gandhi went there in April, 1917 on learning about the abuses suffered by the cultivators of the district, forced into growing indigo by British planters/estate owners.

• Gandhi was so thoroughly persuaded by Rajkumar Shukla, an indigo cultivator from Champaran that he decided to investigate into the matter.

• Gandhi’s method of inquiry at Champaran was based on surveys by the volunteers. The respondents who willingly gave statements should sign the papers or give thumb impressions.

• For those unwilling to participate, the reasons must be recorded by the volunteers. The principal volunteers in this survey were mostly lawyers like Babu Rajendra Prasad, Dharnidhar Prasad, Gorakh Prasad, Ramnawami Prasad, Sambhusaran and Anugraha Narain Sinha.

Outcomes:

In June 1917, the British administration declared the formation of a formal inquiry committee with Gandhi aboard. The Government accepted almost all its recommendations. The principal recommendation accepted was complete abolition of Tinkathia system. It was a major blow to the British planters who became resentful. But they could not prevent the passage of Champaran Agrarian Act in Bihar & Orissa Legislative Council on March 4, 1918.

• It was in Champaran that Gandhi first met J. B. Kripalani and Rajendra Prasad; and it was through his work in Champaran that Gandhi attracted the attention (and admiration) of Vallabhbhai Patel and Mahadev Desai.

9. The government is planning to release the commemorative coin and postage stamp in memory of Paika Rebellion.

About Paika rebellion:

Two-hundred years ago in 1817, a valiant uprising of soldiers led by Buxi Jagabandhu (Bidyadhar Mohapatra) took place in Khurda of Odisha. This is known as Paika rebellion.

Reason for the revolt:                                                          

• The Paikas were the traditional land-owning militia of Odisha and served as warriors. When armies of the East India Company overran most of Odisha in 1803, the Raja of Khurda lost his primacy and the power and prestige of the Paikas went on a decline. The British were not comfortable with these aggressive, warlike new subjects and set up a commission under Walter Ewer to look into the issue.

• The commission recommended that the hereditary rent-free lands granted to the Paikas be taken over by the British administration and this recommendation was zealously adhered to. They revolted against the British.

• However, the rebellion had several other underlying causes – like the rise in the price of salt, abolition of the cowrie currency for payment of taxes and an overtly extortionist land revenue policy.

• Although initially the Company struggled to respond they managed to put down the rebellion by May 1817. Many of the Paik leaders were hung or deported. Jagabandhu surrendered in 1825.

10. Goa recently celebrated the 57th Liberation Day. On this day, Goa attained independence from the 450-years of Portuguese rule.

About Operation Vijay:

• Portuguese were the first ones to colonize parts of India and were the last to leave. The Portuguese invaded Goa in the year 1510.

• Operation Vijay began on December 17, 1961, when the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru ordered the invasion. With a force of almost 30,000, the Indian attack overpowered the ill-prepared Portuguese 3,000 member army. With minimal bloodshed, the attack was successful and was carried forward to retrieve the other Portuguese-controlled areas, Daman and Diu.

• At this point on December 18, the Portuguese Governor General Vassalo da Silva gave up control of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu. Three days after the attack began; Goa finally became a part of India.

Referendum and Statehood:

• The Goa Opinion Poll was a referendum held in the state of Goa, India, on 16 January 1967, to decide the future of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu within the Indian Union.

• Although popularly called an opinion poll, it was in fact, a referendum, as the results of the poll were binding on the government of India.

• The referendum offered the people of Goa a choice between continuing as a union territory and merging with the state of Maharashtra.

• It is the only referendum to have been held in independent India.

• The people of Goa voted against the merger and Goa continued to be a union territory. Subsequently, in 1987, Goa became a full-fledged state within the Indian Union.

11. Who are Lingayats?

Lingayats are followers of 12th-century social reformer Basavanna and his Vachana (verses) philosophy.

• Their beliefs, practices and faith are different.

• Veerashaivas worship Lord Shiva, the one mentioned in Hindu mythology.

• However, the Shiva that Basavanna referred to in his Vachanas (verses) is not the Hindu god Shiva but the ishtalinga (formless God), which people of the community wear around their neck.

12. Who are Veerashaivas?

• Veerashaivas are a sub-sect of Lingayats and ardent followers of Lord Shiva. They preceded Basavanna, the founder of Lingayatism.

• Veerashaivism has its roots in the Vedas and Agamas, and Veerashaivas do not worship any god other than Shiva; they can be found spread across Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

13. Who is Basavanna?

Basavanna was a 12th-century social reformer. The revolution that Basavanna led came years after the Buddha. It was Basavanna and his contemporary Sharanas who launched a very strong spiritual, social and religious rebellion against Brahminical hegemony. Basavanna had declared that “work is worship”.

• He gave women equal status in his movement through the Vachanas (verses). In order to take the social movement closer to the people, Basavanna and all the other Sharanas voiced their concerns in simple Kannada Vachanas so that even lay people could comprehend them.

14. World economic forum has released the 2018 gender gap index.

• Iceland has been ranked as Number 1. It is followed by Norway, Sweden and Finland.

• Other countries in top 10 include Nicaragua, Rwanda, New Zealand, Philippines, Ireland and Namibia.

• As per the report, at the current speed it will take about 108 years to close the overall gender gap in the world. And after 202 years there will be parity in the workplace in the world at the current rate of change.

Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and finally Yemen showed the biggest overall gender gaps of the countries surveyed.

Performance of India:

India has been ranked at 108.

• It has recorded improvement in wage equality for similar work and has fully closed its tertiary education gender gap for the first time.

• It ranks 142nd out of 149 countries in the economic opportunity and participation sub index.

• India continues to rank third-lowest in the world on health and survival, remaining the world’s least- improved country on this sub index over the past decade.

• India has slightly improved in WEF’s wage equality for similar work indicator, where it stood at 72nd place. The country has also closed its tertiary education enrolment gap for the first time in 2018 and has managed to keep its primary and secondary gaps closed for the third year running.

Interestingly, India has the second-largest artificial intelligence (AI) workforce but one of the largest AI gender gaps, with only 22% of roles filled by women.

Sources: the Hindu.

15. A three-state field-level campaign on Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) is being organised by the Union Government from the first week of January 2019.

As a part of the campaign, over 900 cultural programmes across various districts of Maharashtra, 100 programmes in Goa and 30 programmes in UT of Dadra & Nagar Haveli would be held.

About BBBP:

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao (BBBP) Scheme was launched in January, 2015. The scheme is aimed at promoting gender equality and the significance of educating girls.

• The Scheme is targeted at improving the Child Sex Ratio through multi sectoral interventions including prevention of gender biased sex selection and promoting girls’ education and her holistic empowerment.

• It is a tri-ministerial effort of Ministries of Women and Child Development, Health & Family Welfare and Human Resource Development.

Significance and the need for scheme:

• The trend of decline in the Child Sex Ratio (CSR) has been unabated since 1961. The decline from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 and further to 918 in 2011 is alarming. The social construct discrimination against girls on one hand, easy availability, affordability and subsequent misuse of diagnostic tools on the other hand; have been critical in increasing Sex Selective Elimination of girls leading to low Child Sex Ratio.

• Child Sex Ratio is defined as number of girls per 1000 of boys between 0-6 years of age. Hence, a decline in the CSR is a major indicator of women disempowerment. The ratio reflects both, pre-birth discrimination manifested through gender biased sex selection and post birth discrimination against girls.

16. The Lok Sabha has passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, also known as, Triple Talaq Bill.

The Bill makes instant triple talaq void and illegal. It seeks to make the practice of instant triple talaq a punishable offence with imprisonment of up to three years.

A brief History

• The case dates back to 2016 when the Supreme Court had sought assistance from the then Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi on pleas challenging the constitutional validity of “triple talaq”, “Nikah halala” and “polygamy”, to assess whether Muslim women face gender discrimination in cases of divorce.

• Opposing the practice of triple talaq, the Centre told the top court that there is a need to re-look at these practices on grounds of gender equality and secularism.

• The Supreme Court later announced the setting up of a five-judge constitutional bench to hear and deliberate on the challenges against the practice of ‘triple talaq, Nikah halala’ and polygamy.

• The issue gained political momentum on March 2017 when the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) told the Supreme Court that the issue of triple talaq falls outside the judiciary’s realm and that these issues should not be touched by the court.

• However, on August 22 this year, the Supreme Court set aside the decade-old practice of instant triple talaq saying it was violative of Article 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

A Bill in this regard:

• In September, the government had proposed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill in the Parliament and sought to make triple talaq a punishable offence under the law.

• At first, the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha but it failed to secure a majority in the Rajya Sabha. The Bill was postponed till the winter session of Parliament. Following this, an ordinance was issued by the government after the bill failed to get cleared in Rajya Sabha amid protests by the Opposition.

Key provisions of the Bill:

• The Bill makes all declaration of talaq, including in written or electronic form, to be void (i.e. not enforceable in law) and illegal.

Definition: It defines talaq as talaq-e-biddat or any other similar form of talaq pronounced by a Muslim man resulting in instant and irrevocable divorce. Talaq-e-biddat refers to the practice under Muslim personal laws where pronouncement of the word ‘talaq’ thrice in one sitting by a Muslim man to his wife results in an instant and irrevocable divorce.

Offence and penalty: The Bill makes declaration of talaq a cognizable offence, attracting up to three years’ imprisonment with a fine. (A cognizable offence is one for which a police officer may arrest an accused person without warrant.) The offence will be cognizable only if information relating to the offence is given by: (i) the married woman (against whom talaq has been declared), or (ii) any person related to her by blood or marriage.

• The Bill provides that the Magistrate may grant bail to the accused. The bail may be granted only after hearing the woman (against whom talaq has been pronounced), and if the Magistrate is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for granting bail.

• The offence may be compounded by the Magistrate upon the request of the woman (against whom talaq has been declared). Compounding refers to the procedure where the two sides agree to stop legal proceedings, and settle the dispute. The terms and conditions of the compounding of the offence will be determined by the Magistrate.

• Allowance: A Muslim woman, against whom talaq has been declared, is entitled to seek subsistence allowance from her husband for herself and for her dependent children. The amount of the allowance will be determined by the Magistrate.

Custody: A Muslim woman, against whom such talaq has been declared, is entitled to seek custody of her minor children. The manner of custody will be determined by the Magistrate.

17. Mahila Police Volunteers

The Ministry of Women and Child Development in collaboration with the Ministry of Home Affairs has envisaged engagement of Mahila Police Volunteers (MPVs) in the States and Union Territories who will act as a link between police and community and help women in distress.

• All Chief Secretaries of States/UTs have been requested to adopt this initiative in their respective States.

Background:

Haryana is the first state to adopt the initiative at Karnal and Mahendragarh District on a pilot basis under Nirbhaya Fund during the financial year 2016-2017.

• Further, the proposals of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh have also been approved for implementation of MPVs.

About the scheme:

• Originally conceived by the Union Ministry of Women & Child Development, Mahila Police Volunteer is a joint initiative with the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.

• The Mahila Police Volunteers scheme envisages creation of a link between the police authorities and the local communities in villages through police volunteers who will be women specially trained for this purpose.

• Their primary job will be to keep an eye on situations where women in the village are harassed or their rights and entitlements are denied or their development is prevented.

• In order to provide a link between police and community and facilitate women in distress, one Mahila Police Volunteer (MPV) is envisaged per Gram Panchayat across the country. MPV must be atleast 21 years old and class 12th these will be selected through a laid out procedure from among the empowered, responsible, socially aware women who will facilitate police outreach on gender concerns.

18. Ujjwala Sanitary Napkins initiative

Ujjwala Sanitary Napkins initiative has been launched by three oil marketing companies – IOCL, BPCL and HPCL

Key highlights of the scheme:

The mission, which forms part of the CSR initiative of OMCs in Odisha, is aimed to educate women on female hygiene and health, improve accessibility to low cost eco-friendly sanitary pads and boost rural employment and economy.

• The three companies will set up 100 manufacturing units at the Common Service Centres (CSC)covering 93 Blocks across 30 districts of Odisha at an estimated cost of ₹2.94 crore.

• At least 10 Ujjwala beneficiary women will get employment at each CSC. Each facility will have a capacity to produce 1,200-2,000 pads per day and will have a sterilisation room to ensure that the napkins are sterilised before they are packed for use by rural women.

• The CSCs are also being provided with raw material, enough to make 45,000-50,000 pads. These napkins will be priced at ₹40 per pack, each containing eight pads.

• The Ujjwala pads will be made of virgin wood pulp sheet, non-woven white sheet and a gel sheet which are all biodegradable in nature and will leave minimal carbon footprint.

19. One of the most active volcanoes of Indonesia, Mount Soputan volcano, erupted recently. It   is located on the Sulawesi Island in Indonesia.

Background:

 Indonesia sits along the Ring of Fire region, an area where most of the world’s volcanic eruptions occur. The Ring of Fire has seen a large amount of activity in recent days, but Indonesia has been hit hard due to its position on a large grid of tectonic plates.

Vulnerable: Indonesia is at the meeting point of three major continental plates – the Pacific, the Eurasian and the Indo-Australian plates – and the much smaller Philippine plate. As a result, several volcanoes on the Indonesian islands are prone to erupting, with Bali’s Mt Agung taking the headlines last year and in 2018. Indonesia is home to roughly 400 volcanoes, out of which 127 are currently active, accounting for about a third of the world’s active volcanoes.

What is the Ring of Fire?

• The Ring of Fire is a Pacific region home to over 450 volcanoes, including three of the world’s four most active volcanoes – Mount St. Helens in the USA, Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. It is also sometimes called the circum-Pacific belt.

• Around 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire, and 80% of the world’s largest earthquakes. The 40, 0000 kilometre horse-shoe-shaped ring loops from New Zealand to Chile, passing through the coasts of Asia and the Americas on the way.

Location:

• It stretches along the Pacific Ocean coastlines, where the Pacific Plate grinds against other, smaller tectonic plates that form the Earth’s crust – such as the Philippine Sea plate and the Cocos and Nazca Plates that line the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Risk:

• The people most at risk from activity in the Ring of Fire are in the US west coast, Chile, Japan and island nations including the Solomon Islands. These areas are most at risk because they lie on so-called subduction zones – which are boundaries that mark the collision between two of the planet’s tectonic plates.

How was the Ring of Fire formed?

• The Ring of Fire is the result from subduction of oceanic tectonic plates beneath lighter continental plates. The area where these tectonic plates meet is called a subduction zone.

Why does the Ring of Fire trigger earthquakes?

• The world’s deepest earthquakes happen in subduction zone areas as tectonic plates scrape against each other – and the Ring of Fire has the world’s biggest concentration of subduction zones.

• As energy is released from the earth’s molten core, it forces tectonic plates to move and they crash up against each other, causing friction. The friction causes a build-up of energy and when this energy is finally released it causes an earthquake. If this happens at sea it can cause devastating tsunamis.

• Tectonic plates usually only move on average a few centimetres each year, but when an earthquake strikes, they speed up massively and can move at several metres per second.

Sources: the Hindu.

20. Winter Solstice 2018: This year the Winter Solstice on December 21st

What is Winter Solstice?

• The winter solstice happens every year when the Sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted farthest away from the Sun, delivering the fewest hours of sunlight of the year.

• The Sun is directly overhead of the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere during the December solstice and is closer to the horizon than at any other time in the year.

• The day after the winter solstice marks the beginning of lengthening days, leading up to the summer solstice in June.

• In the Southern Hemisphere, the opposite is true. Dawn comes early, and dusk comes late. The sun is high and the shortest noontime shadow of the year happens there. In the Southern Hemisphere, people will experience their longest day and shortest night.

Does the winter solstice always occur on December 21st?

• While it more often than not falls on December 21st, the exact time of the solstice varies each year. In the Northern hemisphere the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, because it is tilted away from the sun, and receives the least amount of sunlight on that day.

• However, the earliest sunset does not occur on the solstice, because of the slight discrepancy between

‘Solar time’ and the clocks we use.

• The shortest day of the year often falls on December 21st, but the modern calendar of 365 days a year

– With an extra day every four years – does not correspond exactly to the solar year of 365.2422 days.

• The solstice can happen on December 20, 21, 22 or 23, though December 20 or 23 solstices are rare. The last December 23 solstice was in 1903 and will not happen again until 2303.

What does ‘solstice’ mean?

•             The term ‘solstice’ derives from the Latin word ‘solstitium’, meaning ‘Sun standing still’.

•             On this day the Sun seems to stand still at the Tropic of Capricorn and then reverses its direction as it reaches its southernmost position as seen from the Earth.

•             Some prefer the more Teutonic term ‘sunturn’ to describe the event.

21. NATIONAL JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS COMMISSION (NJAC) ACT       

The Supreme Court has dismissed the review petition challenging the striking down of a Constitutional Amendment that sought to give the executive a say in the appointment of top judges on grounds of delay and lack of merit.

Background:

• On 16 October 2015, in a 4-1 majority verdict, the Supreme Court held that both the Constitution (Ninety-ninth Amendment) Act, 2014, and the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC) Act, 2014, were unconstitutional as it would undermine the independence of the judiciary.

• The majority said the two laws affect the independence of the judiciary, and judicial appointments, among other things, should be protected from executive control.

About NJAC and the Act:

• NJAC is a body responsible for the appointment and transfer of judges to the higher judiciary in India. JAC Bill sought to replace the collegium system of appointing the judges of Supreme Court and 24 High Courts with judicial appointments commission wherein the executive will have a say in appointing the judges.

• A new article, Article 124A, (which provides for the composition of the NJAC) was to be inserted into the Constitution.

• The Bill provided for the procedure to be followed by the NJAC for recommending persons for appointment as Chief Justice of India and other Judges of the Supreme Court (SC), and Chief Justice and other Judges of High Courts (HC).

According to the bill the commission will consist of the following members:

• Chief Justice of India (Chairperson, ex officio)

• Two other senior judges of the Supreme Court next to the Chief Justice of India – ex officio

• The Union Minister of Law and Justice, ex-officio

• Two eminent persons (to be nominated by a committee consisting of the Chief Justice of India, Prime Minister of India and the Leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha or where there is no such Leader of Opposition, then, the Leader of single largest Opposition Party in Lok Sabha), provided that of the two eminent persons, one person would be from the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes or OBC or minority communities or a woman. The eminent persons shall be nominated for a period of three years and shall not be eligible for re-nomination.

22. Aadhar, Money Bill.

• The review petition has been filed against the September 26 verdict of the five-judge constitution bench which had said there was nothing in the Aadhaar Act that violated right to privacy of an individual. The court had also upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Bill as a Money Bill by the Lok Sabha.

Background:

• While declaring the scheme as constitutionally valid, the top court had struck down some of its provisions including its linking with bank accounts, mobile phones and school admissions. The constitution bench had held that Aadhaar would remain mandatory for filing of Income Tax returns and allotment of Permanent Account Number (PAN).

Need for review- demands by the petitioner

• The petition claimed that the Aadhaar program, which had been in existence prior to the enactment of the Aadhaar  Act,  2016,  had  itself  become an  “instrument  of  transfer  of  sensitive  personal  data” belonging to citizens to foreign entities acting as biometric service providers at a time when the UIDAI in 2010 had no cyber or technical infrastructure to store such information.

• This, the petition claimed, poses a massive national security risk, more so when, according to a Press Information Bureau notification, 100 crore enrolments had already taken place before April 4, 2016.

What was the contention against Aadhaar before the Supreme Court?

The main questions raised during the hearing on Aadhaar were:

• Is the Aadhaar Act, 2016, constitutionally valid given that it was passed in Parliament as a Money Bill?

• Why does every citizen need one identity proof — a unique identification number — to acquire government benefits? Can’t this be done using other documents, like ration card or passport?

• Does Aadhaar take away our right to privacy — upheld as a fundamental right by a nine-judge Constitution bench of the court in August last year.

• What happens if Aadhaar data becomes a tool for mass surveillance by the state, as the movement and activities of users can be tracked by collecting metadata?

Supreme Court: Majority Judgement Conclusions

• Supreme Court felt that the technology has become a vital tool for ensuring good governance in a welfare state.

• Schemes such as PDS, scholarships, Mid-day Meals and LPG subsidies involve huge amount of money and Aadhaar helped welfare reach of the poor as a fool-proof mechanism.

• Majority opinion upholds Aadhaar as a reasonable restriction on privacy. It fulfils Government’s aim to provide dignity to the marginalised.

• Aadhaar unique ID cannot be duplicated, whereas, PAN, Ration Card can be duplicated. It upheld the passage of the Aadhaar Act as a Money Bill.

• The authentication records should not be retained for more than 6 months. Archiving of records for five years is bad in law.

• SC struck down Section 33 (2), which allowed the disclosure of Aadhaar information for national security reasons on the orders of an officer not below a Joint Secretary level.

Sources: the Hindu

23. Rajasthan government has approved to do away with the minimum education qualification required to contest panchayat and urban bodies’ elections.

What’s the issue?

The education criteria was introduced by the previous government, which stipulated that for contesting the zila parishad or panchayat samiti polls, a contestant must have a minimum qualification of secondary education (Class X).

• To contest the Sarpanch elections, an aspirant from the general category must have passed Class VIII and a SC/ST aspirant must have passed Class V.

Why has it been scrapped?

• Few experts are of the opinion that the requirement of minimum qualification for contesting elections is against the very spirit of 73rd and 74th amendments.

• It also violates the right of every citizen to vote and to contest elections, which form the basic structure of the constitution.

• It may be noted here that due to these restrictions, many able candidates were debarred from contesting elections. In one way, it can be said that this law has prevented many people from coming to the mainstream.

What has the Supreme Court said in this regard?

• Even Haryana had passed a similar law mandating minimum education qualification for those contesting in Panchayat Raj Institutions. The constitutional validity of this law of Haryana was questioned in the Supreme Court.

• The Supreme Court had upheld the constitutional validity of the law enacted by Haryana government to bar the illiterate from contesting panchayat polls in the state. The Supreme Court had ruled that “it is only education which gives a human being the power to discriminate between right and wrong, good and bad”.

• The Supreme Court’s interpretation is based on the fact that uneducated or illiterate people getting elected to the local bodies can easily be misled by officials if they don’t know to write and read. In such cases, administrative actions that they are going can pose many challenges. The Court has further observed that it is only the education which can give people the power to differentiate between right and wrong, and good and bad.

Background:

• Rajasthan Literacy Rate 2011: Literacy rate in Rajasthan has seen upward trend and is 66.11 percent as per 2011 population census. Of that, male literacy stands at 79.19 percent while female literacy is at 52.12 percent. In 2001, literacy rate in Rajasthan stood at 60.41 percent.

24. The Centre is planning to revisit its decision to lift the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) system from 29 islands of Andaman and Nicobar.

Need for review:

To develop tourism, the RAP regime, in place since 1963, was lifted around August this year from 29 islands, including the North Sentinel.

• The lifting of the regime proved problematic and the decision had “many pros and cons that needed to be re-looked”. Recently, U.S. citizen John Allen Chau was killed in the North Sentinel Island.

What is Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime?

• RAP regime was notified under the Foreigners (Restricted Areas) Order, 1963.

• Under it, foreign nationals are not normally allowed to visit protected or restricted area unless Government is satisfied that there are extra-ordinary reasons to justify their visit.

• Every foreigner, except citizen of Bhutan, who desires to enter and stay in protected or restricted area, is required to obtain special permit from competent authority having power to issue such permits to foreigner, seeking it.

• Citizens of Afghanistan, China and Pakistan and foreign nationals of Pakistani origin are exception and are not allowed to enter such areas.

25.  NATIONAL INTEGRATION TOUR       

The National Integration Tours are educational and motivational tours for youth of Jammu & Kashmir and North Eastern States.

Aim of the National Integration Tour:

• It aims to provide an insight into the rich heritage of the country as well as various developmental and industry initiatives that are underway.

• This initiative will expose them to various career options and enable them to interact with renowned personalities.

Background:

• The National Integration Tour has been initiated as part of the Indian Army’s ongoing outreach programme to foster the spirit of National Integration across the entire swathe of the country.

Source: PIB

26. Freight village in Varanasi

• The Ministry of Shipping has approved the development of Rs. 156 crore freight villages in Varanasi adjoining the Inland Waterways Terminal on River Ganga.

• The Varanasi freight village will be   developed   by the Inland Waterways Authority of India.

Advantages:

• It will serve as a cargo hub, and a centre for aggregation and value addition.

• It will also provide support to stimulate development of a professional logistics industry in Varanasi.

World Bank Study:

• A World Bank pre-feasibility study has found Varanasi to be a suitable site for the freight village.

• The traffic volume on inland waterway is expected to increase with the commissioning of the multi modal terminal being built under the Jal Marg Vikas project.

Inland Waterways Authority of India:

• It came into existence on 27th October 1986 for development and regulation of inland waterways for shipping and navigation.

• The Authority primarily undertakes projects for development and maintenance of IWT infrastructure on national waterways through grant received from Ministry of Shipping.

Source: PIB

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